National Hockey League

Pronger, Bouwmeester deals shake up draft

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Before the New York Islanders had a chance to officially tab John Tavares the No. 1 overall pick as the NHL draft commenced on Friday evening, there were reports that a more surprising announcement was about to be made.

That announcement, of course, turned out to be the trade that sent All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger from Anaheim to Philadelphia. Some have described the blockbuster deal as a panic move by the Flyers, while others have gone so far as to hype Philly as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender next season.

One thing is clear, the Flyers paid a big price in order to acquire a player who has just one season remaining on his contract, but those who say Philadelphia gave up too much to nab Pronger may be speaking too soon.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren sent forward Joffrey Lupul, top defensive prospect Luca Sbisa and two first-round picks to Anaheim in exchange for Pronger and Ryan Dingle, an undrafted forward who has yet to see action in an NHL game.

Lupul is a solid offensive player who posted 25 goals and 25 assists for the Flyers last season.

Sbisa, the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft and clearly the key to this deal for Anaheim, turned heads last year when he was forced to play in 39 games for a Philadelphia team racked with injuries on defense. The 19-year-old showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie, but became expendable in the Flyers' quest to win a Cup for the first time since 1975.

There is no question that Holmgren took a big gamble with this trade, but he feels, with good reason, that landing a 6-foot-6, 216-pound defenseman who can play defense as well as provide considerable offense gives his club a better chance at winning it all.

The move was made with one eye on the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers' cross-state rivals who won the Stanley Cup just a few weeks ago. The idea is that Pronger's physical presence will make Philadelphia a tougher opponent, one that will be better equipped to take Penguins superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out of their comfort zones.

Making Pittsburgh a target is not a bad idea, considering the young Penguins could be in the way of any Eastern Conference club that wants to reach the Cup Finals for the next decade or so.

The Calgary Flames also traded for a big defenseman at this weekend's draft, dealing veteran blueliner Jordan Leopold and a third-round pick to Florida for the right to negotiate with Jay Bouwmeester, who will become a free agent on July 1.

Bouwmeester is only 25 and is just coming into his own as an elite defenseman, unlike Pronger, who is 34 and entering the twilight of his career. However, Pronger has won a Hart Trophy and a Stanley Cup, while Bouwmeester has yet to play in a single NHL playoff game.

It was no secret that the Flyers were also trying to land Bouwmeester, and one wonders if Holmgren offered the Panthers a similar deal for the young defenseman that wound up bringing Pronger to Philly. If so, Florida accepted much less for Bouwmeester than the Ducks received for Pronger.

It would be a big setback for the Flames if they are unable to sign Bouwmeester, but it seems unlikely that they would make the deal if they weren't pretty sure about their chances. Assuming Bouwmeester commits to Calgary, the Flames would then have two of the league's best young blueliners while coupling him with Dion Phaneuf.

Philadelphia would rather have acquired the rights to the younger Bouwmeester than Pronger, but it's clear that both teams made excellent choices in the interests of improving their respective defenses.

What the Flyers need to do next is work on signing Pronger to an extension, so that their window to utilize him for a Cup run doesn't shrink to one season. The Flames, on the other hand, took less of a risk as they were probably not going to re-sign Leopold, who like Bouwmeester will also become a free agent if he is not signed by Florida before the July 1 deadline.

In both cases, the Flyers and Flames identified needs that couldn't be addressed by a player available in this year's draft pool. The bottom line is that both clubs are desperate to lift the Stanley Cup once again, and both moved closer to that goal this weekend.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo

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